Thanksgiving: Caught by Surprise

I seem to be having a hard time catching the calendar’s train this year. I caught myself almost writing the wrong year on a check a few days ago. Then I almost wrote the wrong month. All of that is early January stuff, not errors I expect to be making in November. It could be my age, of course. A clue is that I still occasionally write checks.  

Thanksgiving is upon us, and it has almost caught me by surprise. It’s no surprise, I’m afraid, that as we grow older, the calendar pages seem to flip past a lot more quickly. But I don’t need a calendar to tell me that the days are getting shorter (even before we quit saving daylight), the temperatures are dropping, and the leaves are losing their grip. Why should any of us be surprised?

Ah, but the thing about genuine gratitude is that one of its best features is that it does indeed catch us by surprise.

You step outside onto the porch on a dark evening, and when you breathe in, your lungs thrill to that touch of crispness in the air that seems to have just appeared for another year. Before long, at least where I live, you’ll be smelling the lovely scent of firewood perfuming the invigorating air. I love doing my part in the neighborhood to help with that.  

The leaves are indeed falling, but, before they do, they’re blazing with the kind of glorious color that only the Creator himself can splash across the earth’s canvas.

It’s flat where I live on the high plains of Texas, and I try to gain altitude and find mountains as often as possible, but what this flat land has that no place I have ever seen can match are its brilliant sunrises and sunsets. Not one has ever been exactly the same, but they keep coming, thrilling me and commanding my eyes to gaze and my heart to soar.

For most of us, the Thanksgiving holiday comes with tastes that are faithfully familiar. They’re a big part of the celebration. But even though I know that they’re good and they’re on the way, I’m always a little surprised again at just how truly amazing they are.

Best of all, in my estimation, are the sweet surprises from the people we love. Each of them brings out in us, both as individuals and as the group, something unique. The grandkids are laughing and playing, their imaginations in full flower, and then, at different times, one will stop for a moment, look up into my eyes, and say, “I love you, PawPaw.” And that’s a treasure no one can ever put a price on. I’m rich, and I know it.

The prolific songwriter Johnson Oatman, Jr., urged us long ago, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” If you know the song, you’ll remember that then he immediately promises, “And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” Again, surprise!

It’s a great plan always, but I hope we’ll make a particular point during Thanksgiving to keep our eyes open for surprise blessings. None are too small. From warm slippers to a fluffy pillow, from a sweet song well-played and/or sung to a symphony of gratitude that makes music in our souls as we realize how truly blessed we are. The blessing itself may be an unexpected surprise, but another kind of fine surprise comes to me when I realize that I’ve just opened my eyes to really see and be grateful for something or someone I usually take for granted.

I know. For many people, Thanksgiving and other iconic holidays can come with some real pain and the kind of throbbing heartache that’s all the worse because so many other people seem so incredibly happy during the celebrations. Maybe it’s an unusual year with some unusual difficulty when the special day comes, and this year it just has to be lived through. Or maybe the dull holiday sadness has come to be the unwelcome but not unexpected norm. I hope not. But, if so, you may know better than many others that a surprise bit of quiet joy doesn’t have to be spectacularly impressive to be real and warm and appreciated. Such moments savored warm the cold and bring some light even in dark times.

Yes, Thanksgiving is here, and it’s caught me by surprise. But, no surprise, embracing some genuine gratitude always leads to even more blessing.

Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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